Maine DOT releases final ferry rate changes

By Stephanie Grinnell | Sep 21, 2019
File photo The Margaret Chase Smith ferry prepares to dock in Lincolnville.

Officials with Maine State Ferry Service this week released the final ruling on new rates after a more than 18-month process stemming from heavy islander opposition to a previous proposal.

The new rates, which go into effect Oct. 1, are largely the same as a proposal released in July. Commuters taking the ferry to one of the six islands served by the ferry service — Frenchboro, Islesboro, Matinicus, North Haven, Swans Island and Vinalhaven — will be able to purchase commuter tickets. The five tickets for the price of four expire after seven days and are non-transferable.

Another change included in the new proposal is a shift to seasonal ticket prices for all of the islands except Matinicus. During the peak season between June 1 and Sept. 30, an adult passenger making a round-trip to Islesboro will pay $13, while those heading to Swans Island, Frenchboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven will pay $17.50. Rates for children — the age cutoff has been raised to 17 from 12 — are $9 to Islesboro for a round trip and $11.25 to the other islands. Children younger than 6 ride the ferries for free to all islands.

Off-season rates from Oct. 1 to May 31 on Islesboro are $8 per adult round-trip and $4 per child round-trip. For the other islands in the off-season, adults will pay $12.50 and children, $6.25.

Regular vehicle rates during the peak season are $29.50 round-trip for a vehicle and driver taking the ferry to Islesboro and $38.50 to the other islands following a season ticket structure. Commercial vehicle rates are based on length and do not include cost of the driver. Commercial vehicles will pay $4.50 per foot for a one-way trip to Islesboro and $4.75 per foot, one-way, to the other islands during the peak season.

During the off-season, a round-trip for a vehicle and driver to Islesboro will cost $22, while drivers will pay $31 for round-trips to the other four islands. Commercial rates are reduced in the off-season as well, to $4 per foot, one way, to Islesboro and $4.25 per foot, one way, to the other islands.

A motorcycle rider will pay $23.75 for a round-trip to Islesboro or $30.50 for a round-trip to the other islands during the peak season. In the off season, motorcyclists will pay $17.50 to get to Islesboro and back, and $24.25 for round trips to the other islands.

Adult bicyclists will pay $18 in the summer months for a round-trip to Islesboro and children with bikes will cost $14 for the same. Cycling round-trip costs to the other islands are $22.50 for adults (peak) and $16.25 for children. Those riding during colder weather — between Oct. 1 and May 31 — will pay $13 per adult to Islesboro and $9 per child; and $17.50 per adults and $11.25 per child to the other islands.

Matinicus year-round rates are $25 for an adult passenger round trip, $12.50 for children (round trip), $90 for a vehicle and driver round-trip, and $5.75 per foot for commercial vehicles (excluding the driver ticket).

Since May of this year, islanders have been paying more for ferry tickets under Tariff No. 8, which was approved by Maine Department of Transportation as a way to offset a projected budget shortfall. The rates prior to the change had not been adjusted in about a decade.

While all islanders expected an increase, the shift to a flat-rate model — tickets costing the same for all islands — took most by surprise. Islesboro officials and residents objected to the rate increase, which they said impacted Islesboro heavily.

Ridership significantly dropped to that island as the $11 per passenger and $30 per vehicle rates were put in place earlier this year. A lawsuit by Islesboro residents and officials forced Maine DOT, which oversees the ferry service, to begin the rate-setting process again. New leadership following the November elections promised to take islanders' concerns into consideration when restarting the process as well.

During a public hearing on the new rates in Belfast in August, additional issues were brought up to Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note, including suggesting a budget audit to gain control of rising ferry service costs. As well, islanders encouraged ferry service officials to consider more environmentally friendly ferry purchases, address a shortage of mainland parking and look into electronic ticketing options.

The ferry service estimates it costs $12 million per year to operate. Capital costs such as ferries, terminals and piers are 100% paid by the state highway fund. Operating costs are split between fares and gas/diesel tax revenues.

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